In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for her film “The Hurt Locker.” Nearly ten years later, Bigelow is still the only woman to hold this award. Including her, there have only been five women total to have ever been nominated: Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”), and Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”).
It may be a bit subjective to say 2019 was cinematically one of the best years we’ve seen in a while; however, objectively, it has given us some of the strongest female-directed films we have ever seen. Last year was a culmination of the strides female filmmakers have been making for the past decade. They want their work to be seen and voices to be heard. Out of the nearly 125 wide-released films from last year, 19 were directed by women. These films include “Little Women,” “Booksmart,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and “Hustlers.” (It’s also important to include “Frozen II” and “Captain Marvel” which were co-directed by women.) While 19 might seem like a small number, she’s quite mighty. These films grossed nearly $1.7 billion in box office sales, with three films surpassing $100 million on their own (“Hustlers,” “Frozen II,” and “Captain Marvel”). It’s quite clear that audiences actually enjoy films written and directed by women, and we have the numbers (and money) to prove it.
So, as we near the conclusion of this year’s awards season with the Oscars tomorrow, I think it’s important to remind people yet again that there is a lack of awards recognition for female directors. Last year it seemed like a given that Greta Gerwig would get her second nomination for Best Director for her adaption of “Little Women,” and yet, on the morning of Oscar nominations we were all wrong. Year after year, we consistently see female directors shut out from the race. While female directors are producing work that’s high quality and delivering stories that are unique and relate to the human experience from a distinct perspective, the Academy is still putting them on a back burner.
If we look back at Bigelow and her win, it’s easy to question whether the context of her film played a major role. “The Hurt Locker” is an American war film that follows a bomb squad during the Iraq War. It’s no coincidence that films that center around the male experience thrive at the Academy Awards. Granted, during the time of Bigelow’s win, the Academy wasn’t as diverse as it currently is today. Yet today, with a more diverse Academy, we continue to have this issue of diversification across nominees.
So, how can this issue be fixed and will it ever be resolved? The progress that has been made in the past ten years is undeniable. However, increased visibility on all fronts (festival circuits, streaming platforms, wide releases) could have a positive effect. Perhaps it also comes down to Oscar campaigning and how production companies push their films. Either way, when watching the Oscars tomorrow night, we must not lose sight of what an incredible year it was for female filmmakers and how much further the industry needs to go with recognizing them on the same level as their male counterparts.
If you could’ve nominated a female director this year, who would it have been? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Danielle and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and film on Twitter at @ddelplato